Homes Away from Home

Mankato Normal School was the second in Minnesota but the last to build a dormitory for students. When state money was granted to the school and designs provided by State Architect C. H. Johnston, normal schools in Duluth, St. Cloud and Moorhead already had two dormitories; Winona had one. In 1912, a ladies’ dormitory of Maryland Colonial style was built between Ramsey and Warren streets. Built for 80-90 students, it also included an office for the dean of students, matron’s rooms, a trunk room and its own in rmary. It was named Daniel Buck Hall, in honor of the state senator from Mankato who introduced the bill to build the normal school here. A building addition came in 1921 and was named Cooper Hall.

In 1952, as the school was about to begin its move to Highland Campus, Searing Center was constructed at Warren Street and Glenwood Avenue. Crawford Center opened on the hilltop in 1959 and McElroy in 1961. en came Gage Hall’s two towers in 1965. A er that, no new residence halls were added until 2008, when the Julia A. Sears Residence Community, named for the school’s rst female president, opened. In 2012—100 years a er the rst residential building was constructed— the Margaret R. Preska Residence Community was completed. Gage Hall was deemed obsolete and demolished in 2013, consolidating all residence halls at the heart of campus.

Residence halls have changed greatly since 1912. Buck Hall’s $75,000 construction costs in 1912 pale in comparison to the more than $23 million cost of Margaret R. Preska Residence Community 100 years later. In large part, amenities are driven by student wants and needs.

In the early 20th century, on-campus housing was considered a virtual requirement to attract students. The importance of housing has only grown since then.

“…In these days educational institutions of the character of the Normals and colleges are not complete without dormitories,” reported a Mankato Free Press article in April 1912. Today, residence hall accommodations can be a deciding factor when students choose a college to attend, said Cynthia Janney, current Director of Residential Life.

Many changes in dormitory life occurred through the years. For example, house mothers, who set the rules to be followed, have been replaced by highly educated hall directors who are responsible for setting the tone and activities for residence hall living, as well as working with student resident advisors.

At Minnesota State Mankato, house mothers were phased out in the summer of 1968, when it was recognized how important dormitory life is to a student’s total college education, according to the Jan. 17, 1968, Mankato Free Press. Adding graduate assistantships for resident advisors in 1968 also made the burgeoning graduate programs more attractive by providing pay, room and board as benefits.

In the 1970s, a state-mandated change was made to residence hall living. The Minnesota State College Board removed the requirement that state college students under 20 years of age not living at home must live in dormitories. Three years later, a 1974 survey of Mankato dormitory students found 70 percent living there by choice; the number of sophomores living in dormitories actually increased after the requirement was removed.

Residence hall living has always been popular at Minnesota State Mankato, but there have been periods of flux. In the fall of 1975, then-residential life director Tom Heaney reported that about 2,300 of the 3,000 rooms were occupied. As the University began moving from the valley campus to the highland campus—when Buck, Cooper and Searing halls were phased out — some shortages did occur and calls were put out to the community to provide short-term student housing. In other cases, short-term actions such as transforming student lounges into rooms and allowing students to live in the city’s hotels were taken.

Today, the older McElroy and Crawford centers have been updated to better suit student wants and needs. Gage Towers could not be retrofitted, and they were taken down in 2013. A nearby apartment complex, Stadium Heights, has been leased for use as a residence hall complex

This January, Residential Life opened the new University Dining Center. Carkoski Commons, which was built to serve 1,800 students, had been handling 2,700 students since the demolition of Gage Hall and its cafeteria. The new facility is designed to accommodate 3,000 in a more open, food court environment.  —Mike Lagerquist